If you have a mild case of the post-holiday blues I have the right French tip for you. It’s called tirer les rois (literally, drawing the kings) and food is involved, of course… The original tradition was to celebrate Epiphany, the arrival of the Three Wise Men (aka the Three Kings) by sharing a cake, galette des rois, on the twelfth night after Christmas. Today, however, this religious dimension is lost on many galette worshippers and most French bakeries and pastry shops sell galette des rois throughout January.
The tradition is virtually unknown in America so good luck buying a galette des rois here. But you can make your own by following one of these two easy recipes. The first one is the classic puff pastry and almond version one can find all around France right now. The second is my personal favorite, the rustic Comtoise galette, from my home region Franche-Comté.
As Minette has known for several years now, January is the month of galette des rois. We have one month to enjoy it, so we make the best of it! We stop baking galette only when the month is over. If we love it, it’s not only because it tastes so good. It’s also because it comes with a playful ritual children are very fond of.
First, you have to insert a fève (originally a bean, now a small flat oven-proof porcelain figurine) in the galette before baking it. When the galette is ready to be served, you have the youngest child present sit under the table, you cut the galette in uneven slices – OK, they can be even but that’s less fun – and ask the child to assign each slice you point to to a different person. The lucky person who finds the fève in their slice is acclaimed as the Roi (King) or Reine (Queen) of the day and crowned with a paper crown. When they raise their glass and drink, everyone calls out in unison: “The King/Queen is drinking!”
Now I guess you can picture how galette des rois makes for cherished childhood memories in France. The great thing is, there is no reason non-French kids and grownups cannot share in the fun. And that’s exactly why we have a galette party with our Cleveland friends every year. Tomorrow our friends from the good old days of story time at the library will join us to share galette, and so will a few more recent pals of Minette’s.
Sometimes multiculturalism is complex and hard to navigate. Sometimes it is as warm and easy as having friends over and sharing our food and traditions with them. I look forward to yet another uplifting demonstration of that in our home tomorrow.